Guest Post, Denton McCabe: Data-Saturation in Cross-Disciplinary Art

Denton McCabe Bio PhotoData-saturation as an aesthetic practice emerged from the late 20th-century media practice of working with partitions, fragments, multi-samples, and frames, (exemplified by the commercial advertisement, the audio loop, the film montage, the remix, and so forth). Current advances in editing software have enabled the fragmentation of any digital file to occur down at the levels of the tiniest pixel, frame, or multisample. For Deleuze, the montage was a means of releasing the appearance of linear and sequential time from the movement-image, that is to say that editing imbued film with the illusion of a linear timeline. In terms of audio applications, Karlheinz Stockhausen generated entire soundscapes from singular patterns of electronic pulsations; utilizing these cyclic pulse-patterns as material that could be subsequently transposed to other frequencies of any duration; this action resulted in the creation of singular timbres within his compositions Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. Today, in our cultural wasteland, which is littered with moving images and audio, a wasteland literally saturated with infinite variegations of data and their technological transformations; this state has enabled the artist to rupture with past forms, conceptions, and materials in the creation of an artwork.

Traditionally, the creator of a work of art has implemented a top-down design; the creator defined the whole shape of a work of art beforehand, then began partitioning the work off into smaller sequences, movements, or edits. The privilege with which technology has gifted the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is the ability to work from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This is not to say that the artist is only just now blessed with the ability to work with the conception of an isolated fragment of a larger image (for example, a flower petal that would ultimately belong to a field of flowers) or an analogous fragment in any other discipline (a word, or a harmonic interval, a close-up, etc.); with the aid of modern developments in software, the artist can now begin working with not only the frame or partition as a generative material, but this is the initial detail that will eventually reveal the form of the whole working. Beginning with a kernel of some type (a series of pulsations, a shot, a number sequence, or any other raw data) the artist can implement a bottom-up design paradigm; which means creating the micro-details of a work of art firsthand. After individual components are built from scratch, so to speak, these can be unified under the umbrella of a larger creative conception; with multiple creations being unified further into a specific body of work.

This would inevitably lead to, and in some disciplines it already has lead to the development and normalization of a type of aesthetic hebephrenia. This hebephrenic state is beyond the abstractions of modernism and the integration of pop culture in postmodernism (both of which have concerned themselves with beginning from a preconceived whole and then working down to the last finished detail of a work). Working from raw data will almost always lead to chance, or at least unintentional juxtapositions of imagery, sounds, and symbols; all organized with the aid of computing technology. What we are currently witnessing as a culture is that inevitable decline of the artist as an exponent of a singular and clear-cut style of expression in one particular medium; and the inevitable reassignment of the role of the artist to that of a producer of cross-disciplinary statements and non-statements, each with their own singularity of form and content. The traditional approach of working within the framework of the preconceived formulation of a definitive narrative structure, or within the limitations of a hierarchy of elements, has now passed into obsolescence. What needs to be explored is the emergence of a singularity within the actual creator, who can now serve cross-disciplinary roles within herself (author, composer, visual artist, computer programmer, and so on). In fact, the trend towards collaborative effort is not the signifier of the emergence of a new art futurism; this collective effort is an indication of the saturation point of obsolete modes of production cross-pollinating between creative disciplines. The banal progression typical of outmoded production, from concept and form down to partitioning and sequencing; and the final procession towards the arrangement of objects within those prefabricated partitions and sequences (the forms of which, in a sense, already exist and are often immediately recognizable to the spectator or consumer) has become obsolete in the sense that contemporary art has become another matter of flirtation and seduction occurring within the limiting confines of socio-economic and socio-political trends, concerning itself only with the conveyance of a message to consumers, rather than a matter concerned with the exploration of aesthetics and forms. The arts (writing, music, theater, film, and visual art) have become the desperate moral expression of a society of consumers suffocating in the climate of their own decline. Working with data-saturation allows art to return to a purity of aesthetics, unfettered by the sociopolitical issues of our day while still retaining social integrity.

In terms of aesthetics and form, there is a lesson to be learned from Stockhausen’s concept of the morphology of time. Stockhausen’s utilization of microcosmic time-structures that reflect the macrocosmic whole of a work is something that needs to be revisited in a cross-disciplinary aesthetic environment. One revolutionary capability of computing technology is that of data bending; a radically inclusive utopia of interchange and manipulation of file formats that occurs between audio, visual, and text editing software. The results of the data bend are often unpredictable and serendipitous; however, the process of data bending reveals the nature of code and computing technology, which is that the machines are functioning in a universe of pure abstraction, which is an alien reality of form and concept for humankind, and it is humanity that has superimposed the sensate inventions of text, image, audio, video and the accompanying social rules of those playing fields over the raw data of the indifferent machines. Stockhausen recognized the potential for working from kernels, with formulas and their variables; the next step in aesthetic evolution would involve crossing the streams between artistic disciplines at both the microcellular and macrocosmic levels, allowing a fragment of data to become an image file, an audio file, a video, and so forth.

This type of work goes beyond the mere mixture of media or the act of transferring the structure of one medium to another; what needs to be explored in addition to the crossing of disciplines is the mixing of forms. The contemporary mixing of forms would involve the mixture of individual approaches to aesthetic criteria and formulations of aesthetic criteria; which would extend beyond the mere radical juxtaposition of genre that was seen in postmodernist music, such as ‘hip-hop’ with microtonal serialism. A mixed-form work of cross-disciplinary art could include a composition generated from serialist theory and aleatoric operations applied to a series of miniatures for typical hip-hop instrumentation of turntable and digital sampler; this composition would serve as the score to a stop-motion animated film made from sequentially applied glitches and edits of stills generated from original 2D and 3D art as source material. One could then take the score a step further by re-editing the material for digital sampler with sound material culled from the procedure of data bending the images into waveforms. The resultant narrative would be of no importance due to its inevitable nonexistence and irrelevance; what would be significant would be the mixture of audio processing and mathematical forms with chance forms; juxtaposed with the electronic forms of stop-motion animation and glitch; and the forms of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and sculpture; all of which could be further integrated into a larger whole, designed with the utilization of a bottom-up paradigm.

Working with the saturation of data would enable the artist to treat all elements as an infinite series  placed inside a vacuum, subject to endless mangling and manipulation and distortion and abstraction; resulting in a complete aesthetic promiscuity; radical in its inclination towards the negation and obliteration of conventional narrative and rational forms of social discourse; leading towards the eventual implementation of a simulation that could blur the hypothetical boundaries between hyperreality, mythologies and traditional and iconoclastic forms. The beauty of data saturation is its relative freedom and accessibility, which makes a contradiction of rendering everything and nothing as its own instrument, its own frame, its own image, its own sound, its own emotion, its own experience, its own obscenity, its own intrusion, and its own grotesqueness; with the requirement that it is first reduced to code, reduced to a pure state of abstract nullity or abstract validity, rendered completely void of the social.

Guest Post, Lois Roma-Deeley: Got Ekphrasis?

Got Ekphrasis? Conversations Among Art Forms

Who doesn’t want to feel exhilaration, even transformation, during their creative writing process? Often when we are writing alone we get trapped in our own obsessions, verbal tics, repetitive images, “go-to” metaphors; and sometimes we just come up empty. Perhaps we can enhance our creative process by allowing another artist to speak into our imaginative space. Yes, it often feels risky but the rewards can be great.

I am speaking of the practice of ekphrasis, a conversation between and among two or more art forms. Working within an ekphrasis framework, some poets are using visual art, music, photography as well as mathematics, philosophy and physics to enhance their creative process and transform their finished work.

Ekphrasis can be viewed as an active, rapid interchange of the unexpected. It requires an attitude of openness and vulnerability. Ekphrasis courts the unanticipated.

My own experience with ekphrasis involves working with visual artists and musicians, some of whom I collaborated with for more than 10 years. When I first began working this way, my initial responses were nervousness and fear. I didn’t know how my collaborators would receive my work—or if they would understand my vision—or if they would try to impose something on my imaginative space that would feel false and intrusive. And I was also afraid that I would do the same thing to them! However, mid-way through my first collaborative project, what I discovered was that my fears were unfounded. In fact, my collaborators affirmed my poetic vision and enhanced my process by offering unexpected but thoughtful and useful suggestions about my work. Their reactions to my process and to poems allowed me to “think bigger” about my whole body of work. They saw things in me and my work that I could not otherwise see.

Significantly, I learned the approach to ekphrasis projects often centered upon these two dynamics:

  1. Focus on structure or form
  2. Focus on theme or content (essence)

I have worked with artists on numerous ekphrasis projects. However, I collaborated with two artists far more than any others.

With visual artist Beth Shadur, I have worked for more than 10 years on a multitude of artistic adventures. Beth founded and curates the Poetic Dialogue Project (for which I am the poetry curator), an ongoing project pairing visual artists with poets to make collaborative work. Its exhibitions have traveled nationally and internationally.

During our collaborations, Beth and I would often talk about how the “rhythms” and “structures” in a particular visual art piece matched the rhythms and structures of a particular poem. For example, here is Beth’s work “Witness,” which she created in response to my anti-war poem “Bougainvillea and TV.” If you look closely at this painting, you can see part of my poem and my name embedded on the palms, in the upper left hand corner of the picture. My poem is written in free verse with short lines followed by longer stanzas. Beth’s work has similar rhythms of color. My poem ends with the lines: “Now I know I will never understand a thing./The world talks only to itself./Rain to War. Child to dirt/Bougainvillea and TV.” Notice all Beth’s multi-cultural symbols of peace alongside the embedded image of the child lying in the dirt, which is a response to those lines. Both the poem and the visual art retain their own integrity but each is clearly “in conversation” with the other.

Collage and painting mixed media artwork

Beth explains the transformative power embedded in the ekphrasis framework that she heard from her many Poetic Dialogue Project collaborators:

“Poets mentioned experimenting and working outside their own comfort zone to create new ideas and forms for their work, while artists who had never considered text as part of their work found ways to integrate the poet’s voice. The ongoing dialogue offered each creator the opportunity to witness and effect the creation of ‘the other’, respond, communicate, argue, compromise, and sometimes, to change or overcome difficulties. In making collaborative work, each individual brought his or her strength to the paired collaboration, allowing each contribution to be weighed and valued, given critical consideration, as the pair moved to develop solutions to the creative process as a team. In some cases, the collaborative effort was exciting and inspirational, in others problematic. Some pairs mentioned difficult struggles in working with a person who was a stranger; and yet struggle, too, is part of the creative process. All pairs found that the collaborative process in creativity became a catalyst for new directions, new forms and new paradigms in their process and practice.”

The other artist I worked with was composer Christopher Scinto. He and I collaborated on the creation of a music drama, The Ballad of Downtown Jake. Christopher wrote the music and I wrote the book and lyrics. “Jake” is based on my collection of poems High Notes, the writing of which was a direct result of our collaboration.

When we first began working on our project, Christopher and I would talk about the way the structures of jazz pieces—“riffs”—can be mirrored in the structure of poems and a poetry collection. Christopher suggested we create five characters based on his anticipated musical considerations, which he would refer back to when writing his musical score. We decided the core conflict of our characters would be a differentiated struggle with addiction. A short while later, I named the characters and wrote a five-part poem titled “After the Jam Session.” The refrain in the sequence was a riff on the line “Give it to me,” which later became a kind of guiding principle for us. We decided each of our characters was addicted to something— whether it was fame, love, justice, power or hope. Ultimately, we realized we wanted to address the essence of those addictions in terms of the sacred and the profane and the role it plays in the creation of art.

The Ballad of Downtown Jake promotional picture. Paradise Valley Community College. March 12-15

Watch The Ballad of Downtown Jake here.

Working with these artists transformed my poetic process and my poetry significantly. However, the most important gift I received from working with artists on these projects was joy: The pure delight of creating. The simple delight in discovery. The excitement of invention. The elation along the journey. The transport of another’s imagination. The experience of living art.

Basic Rules for Great Poetry

While poetry is most often seen as a ‘free-flow’ or emotional exercise, poetry has a long standing history of rigid form. (Shakespeare anyone?)

And while using a free write exercise for poetry has its place, there is something to be said for using a healthy balance of emotion and form to create a spectacular poem.

To find a good balance for your poetry, try some of the following suggestions:

1. Figure out your form: Whether you chose to write a sestina or a free verse poem, sometimes choosing a form can help get your creative juices flowing. And remember–you can always modify the form after you write the poem, or even while the poem is being written.

2. Line Breaks: No matter what form you’re using for your poem, well placed line breaks are key to the way that your poem comes across to readers. Use shorter line breaks to make your poem have a faster pace, and longer ones to make your poem read more slowly. Be sure that you read your poem out loud after you’ve written it to make sure that you change any lines that may appear to break in awkward places.

3. Grammar; it’s not just for essays: A problem that we sometimes see here at Superstition Review is poetry that lacks (or sometimes overuses) grammar. Remember, in a poem, a comma still acts as a small pause, just like a period signifies the end of a sentence. Therefore, a free verse poem that is written without using periods is like one large run on sentence (not to say that this can’t be done, it can: but it’s hard to pull off successfully). So when it comes to grammar, tread carefully.

4. Imagery: Using images that help your readers ‘see’ and really understand what you are trying to say in your poem is important because it makes the poem more real to them.  Images are concrete pieces of an intangible expression that allow poetry to be shared by people everywhere. While imagery can sometimes represent emotions or deeper themes, a poem without any imagery stands to lose the interest of its audience and come off as paltry at best.

5. Remember your audience: While it’s sometimes easy to write poetry for the pleasure of releasing ideas or emotions, if you plan to publish a poem you need to make sure that it will be understood by your audience. That means using very little ‘inside knowledge’ (meaning, something that only you understand) or rambling on without any purpose or in a way that is confusing to your reader.

If you have any questions regarding our submission guidelines at Superstition Review, feel free to visit our Submissions Page or e-mail us with additional questions.